Wednesday, March 29, 2006

America's Racial Plight: The New York Times' "New" Old News

If I see, hear or read one more analysis of "what's wrong with black men," I'm gonna, I'm gonna ...

Erik Eckholm's
piece, "Plight Deepens for Black Men..." which ran in The New York Times, raised quite a media stir. Using data from recent studies, Eckholm concluded that young black men have fallen further behind in education and jobs -- despite burgeoning opportunities of the past two decades.

Media outlets wasted no time trotting out black pundits, activists, commentators and other members of the black "intelligentsia" to explain the dire statistics to the rest of us.

America has this strange little psychological game it plays when it comes to race matters. We talk, discuss, debate, and mostly ignore it, for decades and then stand sincerely aghast when the problem doesn't fix itself.

Way back in 1899, black scholar Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois predicted crime and chaos among the black underclass. The legacy of slavery, unemployment and the inability to receive fair treatment in the criminal justice system, were some of the factors Du Bois attributed to black crime and despair.

Although Eckholm's piece wasn't really "new" news, it still stunned many whites:

"What, 50 percent of inner-city blacks don't finish high school?"

"You mean to tell me 72 percent of 20-year-old black male dropouts are now jobless?"

And ... "Gee, Wally, half of the 20-year-old black men with high school diplomas, are jobless, too?"

"Really? Incarceration rates are still climbing for blacks in these times of opportunity?"

Professional, well-informed blacks address these questions with gusto, as if they were seriously helping America sift through some complicated, newly discovered data.

"It's Bush's fault," some have said. Others blame racism, parents, rappers, drugs ... on and on they go ...

Consider this past Friday night as I sat with my wife and mother-in-law thoroughly enjoying Bill Maher's HBO program, "Real Time." His guests included reporter Michael Ware, actor Jason Alexander, author Reza Aslan and Georgia Rep. Jack Kingston. Before the program ended, talk show host Tavis Smiley popped in for a satellite interview. After exchanging a few niceties, Maher brought up the Times piece and asked Smiley the "what's wrong with black men" question.

Smiley gave seasoned and informed responses. I'm not sure I could have pulled it off as well. Of course, blacks, like everyone else, need a little push. We should all parent better, mentor more and become even more involved in the lives of young African Americans. But, I mean, really, how many times can we talk about a problem without really addressing it? How's anybody, who is remotely clear on history, poverty and the criminal justice system, supposed to pretend that the "black man's plight" is a new or unpredictable phenomenon?

How do people like Smiley keep a straight face when whites act as if some out-of-this-world intervention is necessary to address an age-old American dilemma?

"What should America do about violent black gang members and murderers?" many ask.

Oh, I don't know, how about the same thing we did with the murderous Irish and Italian gangs of the 1900s and 1920s? Why treat black crime like it's a new, foreign form of crime? The same poverty, unemployment, selfishness and hopelessness that fueled the violent gangs of New York, Chicago, St. Louis and other cities, still exist today.

Maher, among others, blame hip-hop and the gangsta' mentality. "Isn't that really the problem?" they ask.

Gee, lemme see ... Kids are raised with gory slasher films, Jerry Springer, "Elimidate," and "Terminator" movies in homes of divorce and materialistic values. Yet, somehow, rap music has this strange, overpowering effect on black kids? This despite the fact that white kids religiously support the genre as well?

But, for sake of argument, let's say it is rap. What should we do?

Probably the same thing we did when America's youth in the '30s and '40s idolized the Hollywood gangster and thug images. Just as Tinsel town countered negative gangster films with positive, pro-justice flicks about G-Men and FBI agents, America could flip the script on rap.

What if the millions who criticize negative rap fought back by purchasing music by positive, uplifting rappers? I'm guessing the industry would cater to consumer demand -- that's if consumers demanded it, of course.

Young rappers model themselves after real and Hollywood gangsters. Let's face it, gangs are as synonymous with America as Rock and Roll.

What did we do to stop the gangland slaughters of Capone, Dillenger, hit man Bugsy Siegel and other Mafia types? For one thing, we made the illegal liquor business legal when America ended the farce of prohibition. Maybe there's a lesson to be learned as it relates to the illegal drug trade? Hey, I'm just sayin'...

Opportunity played a big part, too. The Italian, Irish and other European immigrants were allowed to integrate into America's economic and social systems. This while the country legally denied blacks basic rights until they gained quasi-freedom in the late 1960s.

It's a little premature to expect blacks to overcome segregation, degradation and decades of cultural, economic and social retardation in as little as 40 years. The "plight" of Black men is a byproduct of America's unfinished business.

Eckholm prompts even the well-intentioned to ask, "Why are so many young black men in jail?"

Well ... simply put, we keep putting them there.

America sends more black men to prison than college. Why? Because that's what we've always done. We have a criminal justice system geared to house, feed and contain people, so we use it -- liberally, it seems, as it pertains to young black males.

How many more studies do we need before it sinks in that it's not such a good idea to lock up 25 percent of any male demographic -- as misguided as they may well be?

We know race is involved. We know that prosecutors will throw young black "LeRoy" and "LeShawn" behind bars quicker, and at a younger age, than they do young, white "Bobby" and "Bertrand," even if they have committed the same crime.

Six years ago, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights published a report, "Justice On Trial: Racial Disparities in the American Criminal Justice System," warning that racial disparity in the criminal justice system is the most profound civil rights crisis of the century.

"...In one critical arena -- criminal justice -- racial inequality is growing, not receding. Our criminal laws, while facially neutral, are enforced in a manner that is massively and pervasively biased," the study stressed. "The injustices of the criminal justice system threaten to render irrelevant fifty years of hard-fought civil rights progress."

It costs more to send and keep kids in prison than it does to send them to trade schools or community colleges. Instead of investing so much of our tax resources on the back end (the incarceration end) why not invest on the front end? Jump on young LeRoy's problems as soon as they surface. And what does LeRoy need? Clothes, tutoring, mentoring, food ... tough love?

Jump on it.

Sure, it'll cost a lot more in time and energy, but the investment would pay off in the long run.

Instead of tossing young black drug abusers and dealers into prison where they'll become old drug dealers and abusers, why not create real federally funded educational facilities where prisoners earn high school diplomas and learn real trades for the real world?

Here's a crazy notion: Give tax breaks, subsidies and federal contracts to businesses that employ or sub-contract to these newly-trained ex-cons. Just as F.D.R.'s Public Works program provided dignity and experience in the post-Depression era, a new deal-inspired program would stop many black males from becoming dire statistics. Such efforts would be well buoyed by a community's commitment to buy the products or services of these participating businesses.

Radical? Not in the least. This is but one of many serious reclamation projects that could be instituted if Americans were serious about the plight of young black males.
History has provided numerous examples to follow. We could fix this problem. We already know how. It's time we stop reporting the obvious, feigning surprise and trotting out black commentators to gingerly interpret what we already know.


Blogger Intercaust said...

It's too good of an idea what you are saying. I can't see the poli-chickens or the misguided liberal activists going for it. It's easier to blame rap and then attempt to censor it. Even though the Irish mob was never put into a fit of violent rage by hearing bagpipes appearantly some believe black youths are remotely controlled by hip-hop beats. Funny how nobody blames bar room sing alongs for the Nazi's atrocities. It probably doesn't make sense to some people how the Rwandan genocide happened even though none of the angry hatchet-weilding Hutus ever played Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.

Thursday, March 30, 2006  
Blogger ChasingMoksha said...

No one is listening. It is sad.

Thursday, March 30, 2006  
Blogger willam OG said...

Put the blame where it belongs, but no one wants to hear where it really belongs, That stupid rap music. Girl's now adays want to be a hoe! Just look outside, I live in the "hood" and everybody around me wants to be thugged out, it wasnt like that ten years ago around here only maybe 35% of young black males were like that, and women had more respect for themselves, sylvester I bet you cant find women hardly of the caliber that they were back in your day, its just life, it all goes down hill, its like that. All this stuff they doing in the schools to make it better, just watch if it works, so what it looks like it my be working now, thats hype, lets see some long term results. Most youth around me have roll models like Ya Boy the "Snow Man" most women trying to pop it like its hot. Becomming a Hoe is in stlye, becomming a thug is in style, it will fade out one day like the bloods and crips but its messed up its like that. I dont blame whites or the system, blacks didnt always have it bad to make them end up in this spot, you got kids in the county with parents that have good jobs and live in nice areas trying to be hard... there trying to be the "Snow Man" so lock them up, Most people I know on the streets just say its something to make you look tuffer. When you get locked up and you got tats and white tee's you hard. Now thats real, forget all this poor old black man stuff, Like I said I live in the hood and some of these cats living around me I would love to see locked up and if you lived over here you would too.

Thursday, March 30, 2006  
Blogger Johnson Lancaster said...

Again, your penetrating insight regarding the media's failure to correctly frame the issue as the result of criminal neglect is on target.

As always what sould be seen clearly as an indictment of the system si more often presented in a way that blames the victim. Let us concede for a moment that we could do a better job in the transferring of values and ethics to younger generations.

Let us further concede that we possess a collective responsibility to do all that we can to proactively change our condition with and without the government's help.

That said, we cannot absolve the overall society from its' continued role in the maintenance of the debilitating pathology that is gripping our neighborhoods and stifling our initiative.

Thursday, March 30, 2006  
Blogger Just Real said...

Forget the governments help, Lets stand up and be MEN, I dont need no government MAMA telling me how to live, what I can have and what I cant have. Check these facts out: Pruitt Igoe, A lot of factors when into why this place got as bad as it did but one thing I would like to point out is that while there were over 10,500 people living their only 280 were fathers or men living in a household with a women and kids, the rest were women and kids, we all know what that ends up looking like. The biggest problem is not the system its the parents lack of involvment in the childs life, everybody is trying to get rich, working overtime and on off days trying to kick it or kick back, mostly without the kids, stick the kids infront of the tv while the parent hangs out with friends. I talk to these guys out here around me and if you live in the hood, ask some this same question, how much did you parents play as a role model in your life? and who would be someone you would consider the model man, WATCH WHAT YOU HEAR. We are our own problem, how is it that a white man can kill one black every 30 years and blacks will hate whites for a generation, but the black guys down the street killing blacks every night and aint no body saying nothing, What is wrong with that picture, but in the end in our minds we look at life like the white man is mostly at fault, Here are some more facts: I have never had or know any blacks to have this happen to them: The white man has never: stole my car, broke into my house, sold my mom some crack, jumped my brother, raped and pimped my sister, etc. but the black man has done all this and guess what, most blacks would say its "the white mans fault" or "the government or republicans" Forget that, lets stand up and be men, Im making a difference in my neighborhood, I got the guys who droped out of highschool out here making kids they see out of school go back to school. they dont want them to end up in the same place.

Friday, March 31, 2006  
Blogger michaelryle said...

Finally someone said it. In my opinion, the same goes for Limbaugh, Coulter and the rest as well. It's a waste of time and energy to, in the words of Jane Austen, "pay [them] the compliment of rational opposition." Your post reminds me of the guy in Spike Lee's documentary, "Four Little Girls", who said that he used to be afraid of Bull Connor until he realized he was crazy. Great, great film, by the way.

Friday, March 31, 2006  
Blogger michaelryle said...

Finally someone said it. In my opinion, the same goes for Limbaugh, Coulter and the rest as well. It's a waste of time and energy to, in the words of Jane Austen, "pay [them] the compliment of rational opposition." Your post reminds me of the guy in Spike Lee's documentary, "Four Little Girls", who said that he used to be afraid of Bull Connor until he realized he was crazy. Great, great film, by the way.

Friday, March 31, 2006  
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